Lately, there are lots of baby turtles available in souvenir stores, some pet stores, on the Boardwalk and the Ocean Walk in Daytona Beach, Florida. At the flea market there, at least five vendors sell them.
The curious thing is that the turtles are illegal. Selling them is punishable, technically anyway, by up to a year in jail.
Baby turtles were popular dime-store pets in the 1950s and ’60s. But they were banned by the FDA in 1975 after some 280,000 cases of salmonella sickness — largely in children — were linked to them. No turtle under 4 inches in length could be sold in the United States, except for "scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes." Stiff penalties were attached.
Salmonella exposure is easily prevented by a hand-washing regimen (or a dollop of Purell), but small kids aren’t so fastidious. To make matters worse, small turtles are bite-size — and kids popped them into their mouths.
"Turtles continue to be a significant carrier of pathogenic organisms, particularly affecting small children," the FDA declared in a May 1975 news release. "A ban of sales is the only action which will adequately protect public health."